The Fate of Dust and Fire: Part Eleven
"No," Hathim replied firmly, turning around to face the old Acara, whose new voice instilled so much fear in him.
"Shame," the voice said, dropping its disguise. Even from the tone, the Uni could feel the power of its true owner. The Acara looked up. His eyes were half closed as if he'd woken from a deep sleep. They were tinted a dark blue with red streaks flashing through them like shooting stars.
Jazan's reaction was instant. He spun around and faced the Acara, hands already buzzing eagerly with magic. The Gelert's reaction was less vicious but the look he gave the possessed pet's body was more powerful than any magic that the prince could have cast.
"What are you?" the prince shouted at the old man. He stared at him in mock indignity.
"Oh, Jazan. You should be more polite to somebody who saved your life," the woman's voice replied. Jazan stiffened as he recalled the Light Guardian's words. He knew he was about to see what had terrified the Draik so.
"You saved his life? I cannot imagine why you would so such a thing," the Gelert boy said very calmly, sounding almost thirty years older. He looked directly at the Acara and for a moment seemed to peer through the body and into the heart of the one controlling him.
"You'll find out very soon, Servant."
"I'm not sure I want to. I know of you. I was warned that if you ever came here, we had to stop you at all costs. I'm prepared to do that, Darkest Faerie."
The Acara stiffened for a moment before letting out a great guffaw. The air around him shimmered and began to fill with dark blues, bright reds and shadowy blacks. Within moments, the image of the Darkest Faerie stood where the Acara was, a few flickers betraying the near-perfect illusion.
"You're good, little servant. Seems like the dear Nuria taught you well. Yes, I am the Darkest Faerie, or at least her mind. Thank you for bringing me here," she purred mockingly. The Gelert growled angrily.
"You won't get into the temple's heart! I won't let you! It won't even open for you!" he cried out to her. Again, the Faerie's laugh pierced the air like a rusty knife.
"I don't need your permission, Servant. If I need to get into the temple, I ask a Guardian," she replied to him and looked straight at Hathim. The Uni shrunk under gaze. Fear coursed through him, freezing him in place as though he was being turned into stone. Yet despite this, he forced himself to defiantly meet the Faerie's gaze.
"I won't open the temple for you. I don't care what you do to me, I'd rather suffer forever than give it to you!" he shouted at the Faerie. She replied with a sly smile.
"What about your own temple? I bet it's somewhere in Qasala, isn't it? So I must own it, since I own Qasala."
"Own Qasala?! What are you talking about?" Jazan shouted angrily at the Faerie, his hands clenched into fists. She turned her head lazily; looking at him like one would look at a Selket beneath their feet.
"Little prince, you're not the ruler of Qasala. I am. Your father made a deal with me. In exchange for power and eternal life, he'd get me Sakhmet-"
"You're the ones who attacked the Earth Guardian!" the Gelert cried out. The Darkest Faerie glared at him before lifting up her hand. A bolt of lightning flashed from her fingers and the boy crumpled onto the floor. Hathim and Jazan began to move towards him but he shook his head weakly. They turned back towards the Faerie.
"Interrupting is rude. You're right, though, it was for the Earth Guardian. I only knew where she was so I decided to force her help me get past the rest of them through control of her own temple. With my power to help, she could have defeated them all. However, Razul failed me and I had to make a new plan. I sealed him away and took his city for my own, knowing that his goody-two-shoes, 'I want to be a good king to prove a point to daddy' son would be so eager to help his people. The Acara whose body I control pointed you in the right direction, as he was told. I'd kept track of you and when you had gotten through the Guardians, I'd come here, defeat the Darkness Guardian and force her to open Nuria's temple," she continued, ending with a little flourish. Jazan listened blankly.
"Father... is responsible for the curse?" he whispered.
"YES! Now he figures it out!" she cried in mock joy. Jazan stared into space, not knowing what he should do. Hathim stepped in front of him, putting himself between the prince and the Darkest Faerie. His ears lay flat against his head.
"Why? Why would you do this?" he shouted at her. She shrugged arrogantly.
"Might as well tell you. Even though I can project myself like this, I'm still a statue in Fyora's garden, able to access only a small part of my real power. But Nuria, Nuria takes care of the Lost Desert and all the many resources and peoples it contains, a bit like her Servants care for her temple. I get into the temple's heart and usurp her, giving me all the power of the desert. Then I can lead an uprising made up of the most powerful and best equipped warriors to Faerieland, make Fyora release me and from there so then, I can get my full revenge," she replied and looked directly into Hathim's eyes. "Come, we have work to do."
"No. You don't own me," Hathim said and looked up at her defiantly.
"And why not?"
"My temple is not part of Qasala. I chose to use my own body so I can travel with Jazan and help him wherever he goes."
The Darkest Faerie raised her eyebrows for a moment before she began to laugh. The illusion flickered as her voice grew louder and more amused. It was like the laughter you heard when an ironic joke is told. Yet when she finally stopped, her face was full of renewed viciousness. The corners of her mouth were twisted into a joyless smile.
"Oh yes, so you did. How adorable. But it doesn't matter, I can take you now if I need to," she stated. Hathim defensively lowered his horn but the Darkest Faerie made no move towards him.
Come to me.
It was like being hit with a train made out of soft wool. The Uni felt himself getting lighter and more relaxed. A quiet, familiar voice cried out in the distance but Hathim didn't hear what it said. Happiness slowly crept through him, infecting every single cell of his body. His soul was flying. He was free.
Don't fear, don't worry. I'll look after you.
He closed his eyes and let the feeling of pure serenity overpower him. It seemed like he had only felt this way in dreams. There was no suffering and no sadness, just bliss. He could hear some sounds but they were so faint that they didn't seem to matter. All he ever wanted was here.
Surrender yourself to me.
He hesitated at the thought of giving himself up like that but it was only for a moment. This was a small price to pay for such joy.
"Sing! Sing for yourself!"
No, don't. Your voice is tired and weak. Rest it.
He didn't feel tired at all. Every part of him was alive and joyful. He'd sing a slow and gentle song.
The second he opened his mouth the happiness shattered. He gasped like a man robbed of his blanket on a cold day. It was all a lie.
Come back to me!
No. The Uni did not want to live this lie. The Song poured from his mouth again, tearing at his mind like a predator. Pain clouded his vision but it was a real pain, not like the false happiness.
Mother. A sickness. The Qasalan streets. Hunger. His panpipes. Wretchedness. Being 'just another brat'. The curse. The Darkness Guardian. All the terrible memories crowded into his brain at once and he was forced to relive them all at once, overloading his senses.
His sight cleared. It was just like this with the Water Guardian. Only this time it was the Darkest Faerie attaching her strings to him and bending his will to her own in exchange for the peace. So he wouldn't see himself do her bidding.
The final shard of the false joy was dispelled. Hathim stood in front of the Darkest Faerie, letting the painful memories settle back into their niches. He was shaking, yet despite the pain of his overloaded senses, he could still stand. The Uni smiled. He had not surrendered to her.
"I'm not going to be your puppet," Hathim hissed at her defiantly. The Darkest Faerie's illusion flickered with rage. She swung her right arm out and sent a powerful spell towards the Uni. Already weak, he was flung to the ground.
Jazan instantly fell to his knees beside his friend, one protective hand resting comfortingly on his mane. The prince looked up at the Darkest Faerie defiantly. Hathim smiled warmly and tried to lift himself but his efforts were in vain. Jazan's defiance turned into malevolence as he watched the Faerie for any signs of aggression. But after her outburst, she was calm. It was as though she was waiting for something.
Thoughts of his father, King Razul, kept swirling in his head. He had betrayed them all, including his own son, just to make a deal with this thing. Despite himself, Jazan began shaking again. How could his father do such a thing to his city and to him?
"Very easily, little Jazan. His mind was bent on obtaining power. He didn't even think about you," the Faerie said with a mocking smirk as if she had read his mind. The prince glared at her as every part of his body convulsed with anger.
He remembered his father looking at his lessons disapprovingly and often scolding him, usually with angry words but sometimes with painful spells, for the smallest mistake. The prince flinched as he thought about his father's insistence that Jazan, a useless, pathetic child, would never be a great king like Razul. How he was an inferior creature that would never hold power over the kingdom.
Yet here he was, trying to fix the mistake that his father had made. Right now, he was doing more for Qasala than the great King Razul. Maybe, just maybe, his father was wrong.
Jazan grinned with new determination. His hands filled with magic which he released at the Faerie. Searing white flames enveloped her as she cried out and collapsed onto the ground. The Faerie's image flickered, giving glimpses of her Acara host. Jazan stared at him with horror, realising just what he did.
The old pet looked up at him. His eyes were full of tears.
"Majesty," the old man cried out, a terrified expression on his face. His voice was not the Darkest Faerie's. He was free. "Her mind is linked to mine. Sever the link! Save me!"
He looked pleadingly at Jazan for a few seconds before his face was covered with the Darkest Faerie's illusion. She stood up, seeming to wipe specks of dust from her dress. Her expression was twisted into a snarl.
"You really shouldn't have done that."
Jazan turned around, looking the Faerie in the eye. He had taken the decision to fight against the odds. For the first time in a long while, he felt strong.
"We're getting him out," he said calmly but loudly enough for her to hear. The Gelert looked up at him, fear flashing by his features for a brief moment before they mirrored the same determined gaze that the prince had adopted.
"Go ahead," the Faerie smirked viciously. A ball of black fire hurtled towards Jazan. In an instant, the prince flung out his hand, flinching as the fire impacted against it. A wall of light appeared briefly as the fireball shattered against it with a bang and disappeared into thin air. The Darkest Faerie shrugged and shot another, much bigger flame at the group. The wall appeared again, blossoming from Jazan's hand. However, its glow was fainter now. She was wearing it down.
"What will we do, Jazan?" Hathim asked, trying to get to his feet. The Gelert boy got his arms around the Uni's torso, trying to lift him up. However, Hathim flapped his wings once, struggling out of the boy's grasp. He did not want others to do what he could do himself.
Taking a hint, the Gelert let go. The Uni staggered up.
"We must sever the link they have," Jazan shouted over the din of the impacts and turned to Hathim gravely. "I'm sure you can guess what that means."
"Jazan, it could kill him!"
"We have no choice. For him, it's either that or being the Darkest Faerie's puppet."
He nodded slowly. The Uni knew what he must do. The prince saw that his friend understood perfectly and focused all of his attention on countering the Darkest Faerie's spells. He gritted his teeth as a final fireball shattered the barrier he had created. Jazan, feeling the stress of their situation, began making mistakes and struggling to erect a new barrier. His opponent however, was quick to exploit his weakness. Bolts of lightning shot from her hands, just as the prince managed to cast his spell. Most of the lightning bolts faded as soon as they came into contact with the shield but a few swept past Jazan, touching him with their electric tendrils. He cried in pain but managed to keep the barrier going. This was temporary, he told himself. This is until Hathim can Sing.
Summoning all of his strength in order not to topple over, the Uni opened his mouth and Sang melodiously, his voice competing with the noise of the battle. Jazan tore his hand away from the barrier as soon as he heard it and clasped his hands to his ears. The Gelert boy did the same. The Darkest Faerie grinned briefly, seeing a chance for victory before the song hit her.
The song was woven like a tapestry. One note exploded into a complex polyphony, with his voice dancing between high and low notes. The emotion Hathim felt was transmuted into music and the resulting song was released to the world. He sang of loss, of friendship, of wonder, of despair, never shying away from the depths of each feeling, turning them from indescribable things that lurk in the bottom of your heart and mind to tangible sounds.
As soon as the Darkest Faerie heard it, her eyes widened in terror. The illusion began to flicker. A scream emanated from her, the voice of the Faerie mixed with the voice of the old Acara. Hathim flinched as he heard the scream but he knew that he could not stop. The Song grew louder and more emotional in his attempt to drown out their cries, provoking visions of the memories it caused to surface within the listener. Even Jazan and the Gelert, despite doing their best to keep themselves from hearing it, began to see shards of memories that they had long forgotten about. Their faces changed subtly and suddenly, from happiness to misery.
Yet even as he sang, the Darkest Faerie's illusion only flickered. It never went away and neither did the old Acara's voice ever surface for more than a few seconds. Hathim's voice was as loud and pervasive as the desert wind during a sandstorm but this was clearly not enough. His song began to fade as he gradually lost hope. In between the flashes, the Faerie's illusion began to gain a smile.
To the Uni's horror, Jazan removed his hands from his ears and stretched them out. Involuntary tears began streaming down his cheeks and soaking his fur but his lips still moved, though the sound they were making was drowned out by Hathim's song. The Uni badly wanted to stop but he knew that doing so would forfeit the battle to the Darkest Faerie. She would recover much quicker from this barrage than any of them.
The Gelert boy, however, seemed to be particularly distracted by Jazan's whispers. He watched the prince's lips like a hunter, as if he was waiting for something. As the spell progressed, Hathim heard his song grow stronger, the incantation giving the walls more echo and with it, the song getting louder. The Darkest Faerie's illusion shook now, becoming more translucent and exposing the old Acara beneath it slightly but it still showed no sign of giving up. Jazan simply kept saying his spell.
Just before the Kyrii said the last word of the spell, the Gelert, ignoring the pain of the Song, leapt forward at the prince.
"Keep casting!" he screamed at the startled Kyrii. Quickly, the boy fumbled in the prince's robes and took out Nuria's amulet. The red stone inlaid within it was pulsing like a heart. Jazan nodded, hoping the Gelert knew what he was doing and kept reciting the spell
"I'm sorry," the Servant whispered and put his palm briefly over the stone. Red light briefly flared from him.
The stone shattered into a thousand pieces just as Jazan said the final syllable. Suddenly, the entire room filled with bright red tendrils of light that reached from the remains of the amulet into the space around them. They flashed for a brief moment and began to fade. Yet as they disappeared into thin air, the echoing effect of Jazan's spell was amplified. The entire temple shook as though the stones themselves were singing Hathim's song. The Darkest Faerie screamed in pain but that scream was lost in the barrage of sound. The illusion began to crack around the old Acara. The Gelert boy ran out and caught him, gently placing the old man on the floor.
The faerie's dying illusion cried out a name.
Unheeded by any of the pets, a black shadow placed a scroll at the foot of the statue and disappeared.
In her pain, the Faerie smiled and looked straight at Hathim and Jazan. The Uni glimpsed it out of the corner of his eye and for a brief second, that look of triumph made his voice die away.
"Either way, you'll be mine," the Faerie mouthed before her illusion shattered. Hathim let his song quieten, shaking with the effort of sustaining such an intense sound for so long. He looked at Jazan.
The Prince's joy at fighting off the Faerie was rudely interrupted. For a brief moment, his magic-honed senses were aware of something evil, somewhere in the desert, enjoying a moment of victory. But that feeling passed so quickly that he decided he must have imagined it.
Certainly the Gelert was too preoccupied with the Acara to have noticed anything. He checked that the old pet was still breathing and was in no danger. Hathim began to walk towards him but the boy stretched out his arm and indicated that he did not want the Uni to approach.
"Will he be alright?" Jazan asked, his voice filled with concern. The Gelert looked at him.
"He's stable. But I think he ought to stay in the temple to recover. He'll be safe here," he replied, picking up a fragment of the stone from the amulet and placing it into the old pet's hand. The shard pulsed with warmth and the old man groaned.
The boy did a final check on the Acara before standing up and approaching the stone figure of Nuria. Wordlessly, he walked around the statue, his eyes carefully probing the stone for any sign that anything was not right. As he walked, his foot touched an object which rustled faintly. The boy picked it up. It was a scroll, identical to the ones that were dispensed to travellers asking for help from the temple. He unrolled it and with a glance, knew exactly who it was for.
"It may have been the Darkest Faerie's own power or that of one of her servants but there does not seem to be any damage to the temple. I think we dodged that safely," the Gelert replied as he got to his feet. "However, I did find this."
He handed Jazan the scroll and the Kyrii carefully took it and opened it. Instantly, his face morphed into an expression of pure joy. The prince leapt at Hathim with a hug that almost knocked the Uni to the ground.
"We found it, Hathim! Qasala's salvation, it's here!" Jazan cried, almost delirious from joy. The Uni grinned, happy to see his friend so ecstatic. Whenever others were happy, he was happy too. Even if he could never regain his mortal body, the other citizens of Qasala would be spared his fate. He would not bemoan it though.
"What does't say? How do w'ift the curse?" Hathim asked stumbling over words as the infectious happiness spread.
"The Prince of Qasala shall marry the Sakhmetian Princess to unite the kingdoms and free his city," Jazan recited in one go. When he had finished, he looked up at the scroll and beamed at Hathim like a child that just looked up from his presents. The Uni however, was thinking.
"I must have touched the statue in the heat of battle. Otherwise how could it have fallen out?" he thought out loud. The Gelert coughed.
"Normally there is a little more light. But, that scroll appears genuine. Perhaps... the temple knew it was under attack and deliberately toned it down? That's the only thing I can think of. It's certainly plausible since we've never had this sort of situation in here before," he said thoughtfully. Jazan nodded with some doubt but it was immediately gone, buried under the happiness of receiving hope. He was willing to grasp at anything if it meant that his city would be liberated.
"A Sakhmetian princess? Well, it would certainly unite the kingdoms, which would be excellent for trade. The difficulty would be in convincing her though. Not to mention that the current king has no daughters," he pondered as his mind began to sift through the finer details of the prophecy.
"You'll manage. We have eternity and the curse spared your looks after all," Hathim replied and shot Jazan a smile. He had faith in his friend.
"Yes, you're right," Jazan replied and put a hand on Hathim's mane. He turned to the Gelert boy and bowed slightly. The Uni did the same.
"Thank you for your help. Is there anything I can do?" Jazan asked respectfully.
"Nothing. I'm the one here to help," the Gelert boy replied, returning the bow. The prince and the Uni acknowledged his reply and turned around to the exit of the temple, ready to wait however long it took.
Beneath the sands of the Lost Desert, the bones of the former king rested as flames danced over them. Beside them, a projection of the Darkest Faerie smirked.
"They took the bait. Now wait, Razul. Your time to redeem yourself will come and the new Qasalan Empire shall have its immortal king."
The flames flickered before settling again for their long sleep.
Author's Note: I wrote this story to try and create a prequel to the Lost Desert plot, which I absolutely adored. Check it out. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you enjoyed my series!